2018 Phoenix Preview: They Know You're Excited
Saturday, the oval is back! It has been so long since we’ve seen our beloved cars on an oval, and of course, this is the oval debut of the new aero kit. I personally have been waiting for Saturday since the drive back from Gateway because I need oval racing. I need the speed and drama of an oval race: it’s been too long.
The race, the Desert Diamond West Valley Casino Phoenix Grand Prix at the Ingenuity Sun Media (“ISM”) Raceway (collectively known as “Phoenix” or “the Race” because I’m not typing that again) features a one-mile low-banked “tri-oval”. Technically it’s 1.022 miles and there are four corners. The drivers will complete two-hundred and fifty laps for a total distance of 255.5 miles using the short-oval aero kit package. With the new spec-aero kit there was a Super Speedway and a Road Course/Short Oval kit, there are differences even between the Road Course and the Short Oval. Primarily in the Short Oval they can seal off area in the back wing to increase downforce by sixty pounds, conversely, teams must use only one flap on the front and rear ‘wings’, which then reduces downforce.
If doing downforce math doesn’t make your eyes twitch, perhaps the idea that the video boards at the racetrack will be scanning you for demographic information and maybe even how you’re feeling - will give you pause. Yes that is the same Ingenuity Sun Media, which the track is named after. However, if the technology is anything like the technology my home state uses, if you wear glasses, a hat, or smile, they can’t find you in any official pictures.
Back to the important things – the race – this is year three after an eleven-year hiatus. Last year, Simon Pagenaud (current contender in this year’s Driver’s Autograph Battle and Fur Dad to a very good boy) won the race, clinching his first oval win in the series, which seems like an amazing fact. It also featured J.R. Hildebrand placing third on his first race back from breaking his hand and Mikhail Aleshin crashing out in Turn 1, Lap 1. In 2016 the Man, the Myth, the “don’t call me a Legend” Legend Scott Dixon won, Helio Castroneves set a new track record, and the drivers dealt with tire wear.
At nearly every other track I would be writing about how this is the drivers’ first opportunity to try the new aero kit on the track, but the whole gang was out in Phoenix in early February testing. So they’ve had some experience on the track. Also, even earlier testing in Phoenix with the new cars is where the “following distance is cut in half” statement started, so you could say this should be an interesting race.
I’m watching the rookies this race. It’s everyone’s first oval as an IndyCar driver (except for non-rookie rookie Zach Veach). As great as Wickens did at St. Petersburg, a street course for a former DTM driver is one thing – a short oval is a whole separate beast. This is also going to be Fittapaldi’s first race for the 2018 season, and I don’t want to write any more about Fittapaldi because I have a firm belief he shouldn’t even be in that seat.
And what discussion of the first oval of the season would be complete without saying – Ed Carpenter, the “oval specialist” will once again hop into the shared ride and staunchly refuse to drive anything other than ovals. Hell, I picked Ed for a top-ten finish, but I would like Ed to just make that decision this year. I know you’re tired of hearing me say this. I'm tired of writing about it, but it will be brought up every oval.
Finally, some things of note: the official hashtag is #DesertDiamondPGP and our drinking game is as follows:
- Anytime they talk about Mario Andretti
- Anytime they mention Marco Andretti’s livery is a throwback to Mario’s
- Anytime they mention that testing at the IMS was postponed
- Anytime they compare the Phoenix Short Oval to the IMS Super Speedway
Shout out to my brother (since National Sibling Day is this month) for the information on the ISM Raceway. I try not to subscribe to conspiracy theories, but he sent me that article then Ingenuity Sun Media started following us on Twitter...